"Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!"
Oh, wait. Wrong big-haired hero. Here's the actual text from Kerry's new spot about healthcare:
Kerry: "George Bush believes that what's good for the drug companies and insurance industries is good for America, and he's wrong!"
Voiceover: "John Kerry. He has the courage to take on the drug companies to lower prescription prices for everyone. He's taking on the insurance industry to lower your costs and get all Americans covered. And his plan gives everyone access to the same health coverage as Members of Congress."
Kerry: "I'm John Kerry and I approved this message because your family's healthcare is just as important as any politician's in Washington."
Note the Clintonian phrasing "Taking on." In political-advertising fashion, "taking on" the entrenched institutions is the new black-i.e., flattering, but hardly distinguishing. Why, the way all these electioneering Davids are rolling up their shirtsleeves to take on the moneyed Goliaths, it's a wonder there are any Goliaths left.
Still, you have to hand it to Kerry for not panicking. He's built his candidacy around his personal valor, and he's staying the course. The main risk, of course, is that he'll eventually morph into Bert Lahr, shadow-boxing fatuously against invisible foes. The other danger is more subtle. "Courage," as he's defining it here, isn't really about valor; it's about combativeness-and in the pugnacity wars, Howard Dean is cleaning his clock.
Riverfront Media, Washington